In just a few weeks I will have the distinct pleasure of traveling along the westernmost stretch of Route 66 alongside a team from the National Trust for Historic Preservation as they gather support for legislation that would designate the famed highway a National Historic Trail. Once a main avenue for pleasure, work, and the ever-elusive American Dream, Route 66 began falling into disrepair after the creation of the Interstate, which ditched the winding roads of the scenic route for a faster system to get people across the country (learn more here). In designating it an NHT, Route 66 will be eligible for funding that can help restore the small businesses, gorgeous neon signage, funky landmarks and winding roadways that once made the Mother Road the true heart of American road trips.
As someone who grew up Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby telling me to "get my kicks on Route 66" (my mom's a Rat Pack fan) but who never actually got to drive along the route, the thought of joining in on a summer adventure on the road immediately piqued my interest. And after a weekend spent training with the NTHP -- as well as a few weeks now devoted to learning more about the histories of the Route -- I'm even more committed to my original intentions for joining this trip: that is, telling the lesser-known stories of Route 66, and how they tie in to the American Story at large. One of these stories includes the creation of the Green Book (right), which I did a quick write-up on on my personal Instagram (here). Though the rise of the automobile and the creation of interstate roadways meant freedom and new opportunities to many, it also meant new dangers to many others, including more opportunities for racist encounters, the disruption of existing communities, and the glorification of stereotypes for the financial benefit of the privileged.
It's important, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stated in her oft-cited TED Talk, that we not fall into the trap of believing that our History is made up of one single story. Instead, it is made up of the stories of many -- and even those with similar backgrounds in similar places can have entirely different experiences. We, as Americans, are greater than the sum of our parts; we are made up of the histories of all the people who came before us. My interest in Route 66 is in preserving it for future generations, both as a cultural relic and vital piece of Americana but also as a means to communicate what we as a country can do better to build each other up instead of tearing each other down. I want to hear the stories of the marginalized communities who live and work and travel along the route, and to help share those stories. I'm excited to visit some Green Book sites, and hopefully to meet other Latinx folx along the way and in Los Angeles, where both the Route and my time on it will come to an end. I'm excited to hear the personal experiences of all those who have traveled Route 66 before me, and what makes it so special to them. I'm excited about the incredible, brilliant, and beautifully diverse group of people I get to share my first time on Route 66 with.
And, of course, I'm excited to eat as many fried/artificially sugared things as is humanly possible (can you say: "chamoyada?"). Because what is America if not a land of freedom and opportunity in all things deliciously bad for you? Don't @ me.
I'd love to hear your awesome Route 66 stories, tips, and reccs before I head out on July 30th -- feel free to share them in the comments or on my Instagram.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation's #Preserve66 road trip started earlier this month -- You can follow along with my fellow #roadie writers as well as our awesome trip photographer and NTHP staff on their Instagram profiles: